Thunderous applause and cheers erupted from the travel agent audience at CruiseWorld Indonesia 2022 on 4 August when during a panel discussion Pauline Suharno, commissioner and director of Elok Tour, congratulated Indonesian travel agents for emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic as “survivors”.
Citing data from from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Suharno pointed out that ticket sales from Indonesian travel agents stood at only US$31.2 million in January 2022, but increased drastically to US$120 million in June. From these statistics, she believes that “more Indonesians are more confident to travel”.
The positive travel sentiment was also captured during a live poll conducted during a panel discussion. When asked to rate the level of confidence among their clients to travel to Singapore now, 100% of the travel agents polled at CruiseWorld Indonesia indicated that their customers feel assured about travelling to Singapore, with 43% saying they are “very confident” and 57% saying that they are “confident”.
How travel agents can respond to high airfares
However, with soaring airfares remaining a concern for many travel agents, moderator and senior editor of Travel Weekly Asia, Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, also posed the question on what could be done to encourage consumers to travel again.
“Though airfares are expensive now, one benefit to note is that the major travel markets like China is not open yet, and this is when travellers can see the sights they want before the real crowds come back,” said Paulus Sofyan Gazali, director of Tara Tour. “Though some people may hesitate, especially the older ones, the younger ones are more willing to travel.”
Sutrisno Lim, general manager of Raya Utama Travel, tackles the rising airfare issue by thinking out of the box. “We have a lot of potential customers asking about cruises from Singapore but when they see the airfares between Indonesia and Singapore, they will complain about how the air tickets are more expensive than the cruise fares” he said. “But for those who cite high air ticket prices, I usually suggest that they fly into Batam instead and take a ferry into Singapore.”
Substantiating Lim’s suggestion, Mohamed Firhan Abdul Salam, area director, Indonesia – Jakarta of Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said that while the bulk of arrivals come from air, STB has also seen an increase in arrivals via ferries. But he believes it’s probably a “short term trend due to current flight prices, and hopefully by October the situation will normalise again".
From left: Travel Weekly Asia's Xinyi Liang Pholsena, Elok Tour's Pauline Suharno, Raya Utama Travel's Sutrisno Lim, Tara Tour's Paulus Sofyan Gazali and Travel Weekly Asia's Irene Chua.
Greater support from the cruise trade
"The Muslim market is still relatively untapped for the cruise industry", opined Lim, adding that he has been receiving a lot of enquiries from Indonesian travellers about Resorts World Cruises as the cruise line has obtained halal certification for its onboard cuisine.
As well, Suharno, who is also chair of ASTINDO (Indonesian Travel Agents Association) and president of FATA (Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations), spoke of the "huge potential for the cruise market across Indonesia", especially in the smaller cities and travel agents across the archipelago.
Addressing Resorts World Cruises' president Michael Goh and Royal Caribbean International's regional director, sales, Asia Pacific Kenneth Yeo, both of whom were speakers at CruiseWorld Indonesia, Suharno said: “I hope you continue supporting our small-medium travel agents, not only your preferred sales agents (PSA), because it’s the small-medium brick-and-mortar travel agents are the ones supporting and contributing sales. Though these SMEs’ sales may not be as high as your PSAs’, they are the ones who contribute the marketing.”
How STB supports travel agents
Firhan says that support to the Indonesian travel trade is also being offered by STB under the Cruise Development Fund (CDF) which has recently undergo further enhancements.
“The funding quantum is increased from 70% to 80%. It can support travel intermediaries and also includes two categories — one with pre- and post-cruise packages and one without pre- and post-cruise packages. We are flexible in working with our travel intermediaries in the Indonesian market to see how we can push cruise very strongly from the quarter onwards.”
“For example, a travel agent who brings 200 pax to Singapore in total (not needing to be within the same trip), he or she will be reimbursed S$2,000 (US$1,447),” Firhan explained.
Based on STB data, Firhan observes that Indonesians are now staying in Singapore for at least four nights or more, as opposed to two nights on average pre-Covid.
“We spoke to a lot of agencies, influencers, the travel associations to tease out the nuances of the market and how to tailor our marketing messages and create programmes so that they know they can come to Singapore for business, cruise, or other leisure activities,” he added.